Sometimes, companies send us emails with a lot of exclamation points, touting gear that is rather niche. What I’ve learned in the last few years is that even if something doesn’t seem made for what we do, we should take it into the mountains and beat it up anyway, just in case. Example A: the OluKai ‘Eleu trainer. They don’t know it yet, but OluKai accidentally created a shoe that excels at something they never intended.
Who is OluKai?
Hawai’i merges traditional, Pacific Islander culture with (in my opinion) the best of both American and Asian cultures to create a place unique in the US. We’re lucky to be able to travel there and experience it on a domestic flight.
Perhaps the foundation of that melting pot is the concept of Aloha. Most of us haoles think it means hello and goodbye and maybe a few other things. Really, it’s more a concept. It’s the giving of yourself without expectation. It’s the feeling of love and compassion and kindness one has for a family member, but expressed across an entire culture.
Wait, we were talking about OluKai. So OluKai is a Hawai’ian company that makes shoes inspired by the feeling of feet in wet sand. If you’ve ever walked on the beach, right at the edge of the water, you know what they mean. The Aloha part comes in because they’ve been giving a portion of revenues to charity since the start, before they were even profitable. Good company. You should look into buying things from them.
What was the Olukai ‘Eleu designed to do?
The ‘Eleu was designed as a multi-sport trainer for Hawai’ian lifeguards. It’s meant to soak in the ocean, scramble up a lava flow to the top of a volcano, and then cruise down a trail run back to the beach.
With that in mind, the ‘Eleu has a tough, but flexible outsole and rubber bumper to protect your feet from sharp and hard objects. Cushioning comes from dual-density EVA foam. The upper is made from quick-drying synthetic mesh and a highly reflective supporting web for the laces. More mesh connects the tongue to the shoe, keeping debris out. The entire shoe is vegan-friendly, if that’s your thing. The footbed is removable and washable and does not have a fabric layer so it tends not to stink.
Each shoe weighs 7.9 ounces (224g). Laces are thin and thread through a lacelock similar to Salomon’s system. They’re easy to put on, easy to adjust, and comfortable.
OluKai ‘Eleu Fit
My feet are especially wide and thick through the instep. It’s tough to find shoes that have enough room. By the same token, shoes that fit me tend to be too voluminous for people with normal or narrow feet.
When I first put on the ‘Eleu, I thought they were too narrow for my feet. Turns out I had been standing at my desk all day and my feet were swollen. On the second try, they fit well. I tightened the laces a little bit and the shoes stay put. There’s plenty of room for the laces to be tighter, so I expect the ‘Eleu would fit narrower feet just fine.
The footbox is wider than a Salomon shoe, but not as wide as an Altra. My toes touch both sides of the shoes, but there isn’t any friction or rubbing. Unlike most OluKai shoes, the heels on the ‘Eleu aren’t meant to be folded down and worn like clogs. But, they are flexible and stretchy enough that you can get your feet into the shoes without loosening the laces.
Bikepacking with the OluKai ‘Eleu?
A lot of bikepackers strap a pair of flip flops or Crocs onto their bags to wear at the end of the day when they get into camp. Camp shoes are a great relief after being strapped into stiff-soled bike shoes all day. But flip flops don’t work well with socks and Crocs just generally suck – no tread, things poke through them.
The ‘Eleus pack down almost as thin as flip flops and are lighter than most Crocs. So, already a win. Add in the fact that the ‘Eleus have an actual sole with actual traction and things get even better. You get a pretty light shoe that packs small and has good traction. Are there lighter shoes out there? Yup. Shoes that pack smaller? Sure. But, it’s tough to think of a pair of shoes that hits both marks quite as well.
I took the ‘Eleus on my recent Vapor Trail mission as camp shoes. They ended up being perfect for the trip. I’ll save the juicy details for the mission report, but suffice to say that I was stomping through the woods at 9pm in the rain and dark. The ‘Eleus were champs, keeping my feet protected from sticks and rocks. They dried quickly after the night’s adventure. I couldn’t ask for anything else from a pair of camp shoes.
Review: OluKai ‘Eleu
In addition to being great bikepacking camp shoes, the ‘Eleu excels at being an all-around trail shoe and trainer, especially in and around water. I’ve worn them SUP-ing, hiking, and as everyday office shoes. Mesh and drain holes evacuate water quickly. Tread is substantial enough to have traction on our granite gravel without being squirmy on hard surfaces.
On the minus side, plant materials tend to sneak in between the footbed and midsole and collect in the footbed drain holes. They’re easy enough to clean out, but it’s something to be aware of. I imagine it would be worse with sand. But, most Hawai’ian beaches have fresh-water showers where you can hose off and wash your shoes out.
Who Should Buy the OluKai ‘Eleu?
People who regularly transition from water to sand to rock and then off a cliff back to water will love the ‘Eleu. People looking for a light weight but functional camp shoe – whether for backpacking or bikepacking – should check it out as well. The tread doesn’t quite have enough siping for competitive sailing, but more casual boaters can dig it.
A portion of sales for the ‘Eleu and other HLA Series slippas goes to the HLA Junior Guard Program, introducing water safety, first aid and surf rescue techniques to thousands of kids across Hawaii
- good traction